Measuring Reading – a European approach to comparability

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On 16 June during Bologna Children's Book Fair, Aldus Up, the European book fairs network co-founded in the framework of the Creative Europe programme and coordinated by the Italian Publishers Association (AIE) published two studies on existing surveys on translations and reading habits in Europe (the full report is published here).

According to the studies, reading is the key topic of a large number of different surveys throughout Europe, plenty of data on reading habits is available, but what makes it difficult to compare the individual results and put them into perspective, is that each country performs surveys independently and they follow different methodological approaches. One of the objectives of Aldus Up is the development of a unified methodology for surveys on reading habits, to achieve homogeneous statistics on reading and translation.

Piero Attanasio, head of international affairs of the Italian Publishers' Association (AIE) and scientific director of Aldus Up explains that "These different pieces of research are a first step to define a proposal for a shared methodology for surveys, to help Europe make a quality leap in statistical analysis in the publishing field: collecting homogeneous data is the prerequisite for any effective action at European level to support reading and translation rights exchange among countries".  

The pieces of research have been carried out by AIE (for the study on translations) and by the Norwegian Publishers Association (NPA) with the support of the Foundation Germán Sánchez Ruipérez (for the study on reading), under the coordination and with the contribution of the Johannes Gutenberg department on Book studies, University of Mainz (JGU). The network of the Federation of European Publishers (FEP), provided valuable support to access data sources.

This brilliant initiative attracted the attention of the Literacy taskforce of IPA’s Inclusive publishing and Literacy Committee and we were delighted to learn more from Dörthe Fröhlich, research assistant in the field of Book Studies at the Gutenberg Institute for World Literature and Written Media at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz and a project team member of Aldus Up.

 

1) Dörthe, before we start talking about an overview of existing surveys on reading habits in Europe, please tell our readers what Aldus Up is?

Aldus Up is the European Book Fairs’ network co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union with the goal to promote the internationalization of the book sector and the innovation of book fair formats. For this reason, Aldus Up carries out surveys and initiatives to support the exchange of rights between European countries, the promotion of reading and translations, as well as new models for book fairs to develop their audience and increase their inclusivity and accessibility. The partners of Aldus Up are the Italian Publishers Association (AIE) as the project coordinator, the Federation of European Publishers (FEP), Lithuania (LLA), Latvia (LGA), Portugal (APEL), Romania (AER) and Norway (NPA), the book fairs of Frankfurt, Bologna, Vienna and Rome, the book studies department of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), Fondazione LIA and the Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez (FGSR). As of today, 20 European book fairs are members of the network.

 

2) On 16th of June, at the Bologna Book fair, Aldus Up launched the results of a study on existing surveys on reading habits in Europe, what is this research about? Why is this kind of work important? What is your main objective?

When you take a look at the surveys on reading habits in the different European countries you will notice that there is plenty of data. The only problem is that it is often difficult to actually compare the individual results. This mainly results from the fact that the surveys follow different methodological approaches. To address this issue, one of the objectives of Aldus Up is to develop a unified methodology for surveys on reading habits and to test it in a pilot survey. We want to facilitate the comparability of the results between the individual European countries and in this way make it possible to obtain a comprehensive overview of the development of reading across Europe.

 

3) Let’s speak about each chapter of the survey separately. The first chapter describes the methodological approach used to receive information about the methodologies of existing reading surveys in Europe. Please, describe briefly what it covers and how?

In order to get a detailed overview about the methodological approaches used by already existing reading surveys in Europe we developed an online questionnaire which then was sent to the contacts of the Aldus Up network as well as the members of the Federation of European Publishers earlier this year. Together with the results of an accompanying desk analysis we were able to evaluate data on a total of 24 surveys from 20 European countries. These include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the UK.

 

4) The second chapter analyses the results of the survey by looking at the areas of data collection, sample, reading variables, book formats and the definition of reading applied. Let’s start with data collection, which main specifications you can underline?

One can say that the surveys are typically initiated by three main groups which are governmental organisations, industry associations and non-governmental organisations while the actual data collection is either conducted by the organisations themselves or assigned to external market research companies. The methodological approaches applied for the data collection are dominated by personal interviews which are done equally either in person or via telephone, followed by online questionnaires and a mix of these methods. Regarding the frequency of the surveys, we found out that most of the surveys are carried out in regular time intervals. These can range from three months to five years, with annual surveys being the most common. Nevertheless, a third of the surveys is only undertaken on an irregular basis with the last available data sometimes dating back several years. Looking at the annotations made by the participants the reason for this is usually the lack of financial and human resources. The same applies for the total absence of reading surveys in some countries. Another circumstance which might hinder the international comparability of the surveys is the fact that the results are generally only published in the local language of the country. Only in three cases were the results, or at least a detailed summary, made available in English as well.

 

5) Sample – let’s briefly discuss three items of this section: representativity of the sample of the reading surveys, age of the participants of the reading surveys and Socio-demographic variables used in the reading surveys.

While there is a wide variation between the individual surveys in terms of the sample size, all of them are considered representative for the population of the respective country. If the survey is not especially looking at children, the youngest participants are usually 16 or 18 years old. The two key socio-demographic variables that are taken into consideration in almost all of the surveys are age and gender. Over half of the surveys also ask for the place of residence, the education level and the socio-economic level of the participants.

 

6) Please describe variables regarding reading used in the reading surveys.

The use of variables which specifically measure the actual readings habits of the participants of course largely depends on the particular focus of the individual survey. A survey about the use of ebook readers among seniors probably does not look at their parents’ reading behaviour, a survey focusing on young children in contrast will exactly do this. What we can generally say, however, is that most of the surveys include questions about how many books the participants have read in the past, how often they read a book and what kind of format they used.

 

7) What is the picture in terms of book formats?

Not surprisingly, print books are the most common book format considered in the different surveys, closely followed by ebooks. Interestingly, half of the surveys also include audiobooks as an object of their study – though some might consider it debatable whether listening to an audiobook should be counted as a form of reading.

 

8) Definition of reading - how is reading defined in the different surveys?

When it comes to the definition of reading, we noticed some substantial differences among the surveys which can make it more difficult to compare their results: While a third refer to reading as only reading books – be it print books or ebooks – half of them also include reading newspapers or magazines in their concept of reading. Another third even extend it to reading websites or social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

 

9) What is your next step towards the development of a unified methodology for surveys on reading habits in Europe? Do you plan any types of collaboration with the rest of the world beyond Europe in the future for a wider picture?

Our next step in this direction is to create a possible pilot survey based on the findings we have just talked about. But before we can decide on the actual methodological approach of this pilot survey one crucial point to address is how reading should be conceptualised as this has a significant impact on the overall design and later outcome of future surveys. This is why we will produce a discussion paper covering this topic and share it with various stakeholders from industry, authorities and academia to receive additional input from different points of view. At the moment, we are focusing our activities on Europe, but it indeed would be very interesting to put the results in a broader international perspective in the future.

 

Author’s comment:

Please note that we are open to receive the information about the new literacy initiatives and unique projects from different countries’ literacy organizations to highlight them in our future blogs. Please contact us on the following address: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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